History waits: pay delay lawsuit, principals shun MoE, NZEI speaks out

 It’s been a rocky road for the education sector.

This is an excerpt from our latest magazine issue. Read the whole thing by clicking here!

As School News goes to print, NZEI Te Riu Roa and PPTA have announced they will take action against school payroll service, Novopay for delaying pay increases by more than two months. Education minister Chris Hipkins shared his frustration with the payroll system, venting that the delays were “just not good enough”.

Auckland, Photo Credit: Chris Traill

He urged: “The replacement of Novopay is underway, with a new system developed and being slowly and carefully implemented so we avoid another meltdown. It will help to avoid these frustrations in the future, but alone won’t fix everything.”

Red tape has put a dampener on progress for people around the country. One Marlborough teacher described her devastation in an unanswered letter penned to Mr Hipkins: “Who is benefiting by withholding my wages from me for 10.5 weeks after I agreed to the contract?” she asked.

Having taught for 10 years, she is the sole income earner of her household. “Two weeks ago, I found a house that I want to put an offer on. If my offer is accepted, [it] will be my first home. The deadline sale closes next Wednesday. The house is not fancy but it is in good condition and considering I travel 1.5 hours return to my school, doing 100km an hour, and I work 60-70 hours at school per week, it is perfect for my lifestyle, if that amount of hours at work can be called a lifestyle.

“This evening, I opened my payslip and discovered that I had not received my one-off payment of $1500. I was counting on this money for my deposit. My bank will not allow me to place an offer of $450,000 due to the lack of $800, money that this government has promised but has not paid me.

“Novopay is not going to pay me the lump sum until at least one more fortnight, bringing it to more than six weeks since I accepted your offer. […] To find out via Facebook, not even an email from Novopay, that I am meant to wait 1/5th of the year to receive my wage increase has reduced me to tears.

“I would also like to know if and how Novopay intend to pay the interest that my money should have earned, had it been paid to me in a timely fashion.”

While he has not responded to the letter, Mr Hipkins said in a statement that moving towards a unified payscale and having everyone change at the same time made things tricky. “Fifty-one-thousand people are on the payroll, each with different pay and allowances, meaning there are over 139,000 pay adjustments to do,” he said on Twitter.

“I’m sorry that we have to ask teachers to wait a little longer to get the pay rises they fought hard to get. It’s frustrating. If there was a way to speed up the process, I’d make it happen. Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy answer here.”

Christchurch, Distant Sea Photography

NZEI’s national secretary, Paul Goulter is happy to work on simplifying the system, but emphasised one caveat: “That it won’t erode any of the entitlements and conditions our members have fought hard for.” The union confirmed it has instructed lawyers to file action for compliance and penalties. “The delay is completely unacceptable. We’re taking every effort to try and force the Ministry to speed things up,” Mr Goulter clarified.

The new pay agreement promised union members a $1500 lump sum and teachers a pay rise of around three percent per year until 2021. The maximum base salary for primary, secondary and area school teachers with teaching and subject degrees should now increase to $90,000, which would mean around 46 percent of teachers will reach that figure by July 2021. A further 22 percent should reach $85,490, those being primary, secondary and area school teachers with teaching degrees but no subject degrees.

The agreement also stipulates an Accord, which will allow continuous discussion between teachers and government to improve trust, wellbeing, and desirability of the profession.  Class sizes and the removal of current legislative appraisal requirements will be prioritised on the Accord agenda, according to the negotiating parties.

Christchurch, Distant Sea Photography

These victories were all fought for and won by the union strikes. Teachers, families and colleagues marched to secure fairer pay for educators and the unions wrestled with negotiations for weeks at a time. A pay delay isn’t an inconvenience, it’s an insult to the efforts made

NZEI Te Riu Roa president Lynda Stuart gave School News some exclusive insights on her perspective of the history-making action.

“It’s bigger than any one person: it’s the collective coming together to say, ‘enough’s enough’. But I think the other part of it is that people shouldn’t need to take action like that. The people did what they needed to do but there was a clear sense of, ‘do you know what we’d rather be doing? We’d rather be with our schools and children, focussing on teaching and learning.’ We shouldn’t need to do this and we want to get back to the job that we love and that we came into because we want to make a  difference for children.

“There were momentous occasions in Auckland: seeing teachers, principals, colleagues, families, boards of trustees, standing alongside each other has been huge. The sheer numbers! When we got to the May 29 march with our PPTA colleagues… New Zealand hadn’t seen these numbers before – especially not in education – and it sent a real message that there are significant issues for our principals and teachers. People were feeling undervalued and demoralised and we needed to find a way forward. So we’re really glad we found a way forward for our teachers and now we’ve got to find a way forward for our primary principals who rejected the offer [and most recently cut ties with the Ministry until a new deal is agreed]. We are having conversations at the moment with the Ministry of Education.

“The agreement is supposed to cover both teachers and primary principals and there will be conversations in the future around secondary principals, I’m sure, in a way that we can all work together. It has yet to be determined, I have to say. But for primary principals, there will be some issues that cannot be addressed straight away and we want to address them through the Accord. Specifically around wellbeing, workload and ensuring we have parity with secondary colleagues.

Auckland, Photo Credit: Chris Traill

On reframing the role of principal in this country…

“We want to look at the role of principal and the complexity underpinning it and how it is renumerated. In the past, renumeration has really relied on the size of the school; so, small school principals earn a lot less than colleagues who are principals of larger schools. We know that the complexity of being a principal of a small school is huge because sometimes you are a teaching principal, so you’ve got the demands of teaching as well as the demands of leadership, paperwork and administration.”

Principals can also bear the responsibility of boosting and maintaining staff wellbeing. “We’ve always said that wellbeing operates within the system, so the system has an impact on the wellbeing of those within it. We really need to look at those systemic issues that are creating stress and burnout for school leaders and teachers. We will survey our school leaders again and this year and will also include our teachers, working with PPTA too, to get some really rich data on the health and wellbeing of our sector. There are clear recommendations that come through in our research, so hopefully these will provide some solutions to the issues we are facing.

How can schools with few resources improve staff wellbeing?

Trust. “Having conversations within your school about what things are unnecessary (i.e. the duplication of administration or efforts) and getting rid of some of those things. Also, expectations on people [should change]. Because we use digital technology so freely, we are highly accessible.” Establish parameters like banning work emails after 5pm so that staff can enjoy their family/free time. “As principals and teachers, we are often expected to respond to emails from parents and families so I think we need to look at some of these habits within communities. Then there are things that do need to be resourced, i.e. coaches, mentors and making time to schedule meetings during the working day instead of during lunch or before school.”

Christchurch, Distant Sea Photography

How does the Accord work for teachers?

“What we want to do is enable this Accord to actually work in the best interest of our teachers (and ultimately children). The process is yet to be determined through all groups involved but we want to see – over the eight days – that it gives teachers and principals the time they need to do what they want about the curriculum and teaching and learning. It’s a start, and schools should be able to utilise it in the best way they can.”

Emotional impact and final thoughts

“It’s been clear throughout the journey we’ve been on that the public has stood with us,” said Ms Stuart. I Back the Teachers! was a Facebook group created by Esther Te Aotonga that resonated among parents and friends, racking up more than 11,000 members by early May. One of the group administrators, Marnie Wilton, was invited to speak at the Aotea Square Rally in Auckland to present a parent’s perspective on the crisis. She told us: “Both my sons had experienced split classes many times. I saw the huge amount of work teachers put in after hours, growing class sizes and lack of support for kids with special needs. When the strike was announced I really wanted teachers to know that I was concerned about my kids’ education and I supported them 100 percent taking strike action. 

“I got the feeling – rightly or wrongly – that many teachers felt worried about ‘upsetting’ parents. I would go up to teachers and talk to them in the playground or wherever just to say, ‘hey, I get it! I know there is a crisis going on here, and I support you taking action’.” The Facebook group became a huge platform, with members offering interviews, appearing in media coverage of strikes and launching petitions. Ms Wilton tells us the group will be watching for progress on the Accord and has shifted focus to supporting principals: “As parents, we want to see real work and commitment from the government to address the issues.”

Finally, Ms Stuart summarised the journey so far: “It’s been very humbling to see the support of communities and other colleagues, from learning support and early childhood, who have been with us the whole way.”

Rosie Clarke

Rosie is the managing editor here at Multimedia Pty Ltd, working across School News New Zealand and School News Australia. She has spent 10+ years in B2B journalism, and has spent some time over the last couple of years teaching as a sessional academic. Feel free to contact her at any time with editorial or magazine content enquiries.
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